Cambodian food gets short shrift in my opinion. As the adventurous eater matures he zigzags across the culinary landscape, tasting…er…testing the waters of food from around the world. A likely course may lead one first to Mexico, then China, India, Japan (teriyaki), Vietnam, back to Japan (sashimi this time), and then to Africa for Moroccan and Ethiopian fare. The wayfarer on this journey might conclude they did the ‘Asian thing' and moved on to the dark continent.
Admittedly, one's route is influenced by the ethnic populations nearby. If you live in Antler, ND your culinary globe trotting probably starts with Dairy Queen and ends with Taco Hell (née Bell). Given the Boston metro area's size and ethnic variety your journey can be exotic and long. And don't forget to stop in Cambodia.
Mittapheap in Lynn, MA is a nice example of what Cambodian food has to offer. It has a very large menu that touts it's Cambodian fare but also includes Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese. My journey had already been through the latter so I was headed to Cambodia.
Did I say the menu was large? It must have had at least 100 items. It is filled with plenty of unfamiliar words and ingredients but the thoughtful owners include a picture of almost every item. Looking at the pictures and picking up the aroma from the kitchen makes the experience feel like smell-a-vision. My cheerful waitress was more than happy to help me choose the right ‘channel.'
The restaurant is larger than I expected, based on the small storefront facing the street. It can seat about 80 people. The dining room is clean and quaintly appointed with Cambodian art, images and idols.
I arrived at 11:30 AM on a Sunday and a handful of tables were occupied. My two sons (10 and 7) and I were the only gringos, everyone else here was ordering in their native tongue. While not crowded the place felt busier due to the steady stream of patrons arriving for take-out.
My boys are often reluctant to accompany me on culinary expeditions. I lured them in for this one with the promise of chicken wings and white rice. They made me promise not to trick them with any ‘secret ingredients.' In previous excursions I've snuck items into their mouths such as rabbit, pig ears and blood pudding, but that's another story.
I kept true to my word and they were delighted to see plain old fried chicken wings arrive with a heaping bowl of sticky and fragrant white rice. The boys were happy with their choice but I was less so. These were not wings from the plumpest of chickens.
The New York Times recently ran a story on the increasing cost of wings. It's your basic supply and demand problem. It looks like Mittapheap is settling for wings from the lower end of the quality spectrum. They were ultra-cripsy on the outside and tender on the inside but they just weren't meaty enough. The boys didn't complain.
I told our waitress I wanted something Cambodian, that I love soups and I love spicy. She steered me to the Cambodian Sour Soup (Somlor Machu Kroung) which is described on the menu as a "popular Cambodian style soup flavored with lemon grass and various Asian herbs with water grass and jalapeños." You choose the protein - chicken, fish, beef, tripe or pork. I chose the squealer.
When she returned with the soup she placed an enormous crock in front of me. It is large enough for two diners and probably over a quart in total volume.
It had a wonderful aroma of lemon. The broth was cloudy with pulverized lemon grass and accented with kaffir lime leaves. This was not like a Vietnamese pho or Chinese noodle soup - there were no noodles. It was just chock full of diced pork, string beans, greens and very hot spices. I wanted spicy and I got it. By the time I finished eating I looked like I'd run a marathon. And I loved it.
The soup was rich with flavor and the meat was mostly tender. The color and texture of the meat varied so I'd guess they are using varied cuts. A few of the darker pieces were a bit too tough. The bowl was so big that I just avoided those and stuck to the lighter pieces.
I cooled down with a Thai iced tea which included bobas. They have a complete menu of Asian bubble teas, or smoothies.
My first trip to Mittapheap was a success and I can't wait to bring a bring group of fellow adventurers here soon. That way I can try so much more because this excursion merits another visit.
For more information:
877 Western Ave
Lynn, MA 01905